Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

They’re in: We could get Smart/UGA vs. Saban/Bama after all

Remember the game that wasn’t? Kirby Smart and Georgia against Nick Saban and Alabama in Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a championship on the line? We might get it after all. 

As we expected, Georgia is the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff and will play No. 2 Oklahoma on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl. In the biggest stunner of the playoff’s brief history, Alabama gained admittance as the No. 4 seed and will face No. 1 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. This will mark the third consecutive CFP meeting of Clemson and Bama; the first two collisions were epic. 

Georgia beat Auburn, which had beaten Alabama one week earlier, for the SEC championship Saturday. From the moment the Iron Bowl ended, Saban was lobbying for his Crimson Tide’s inclusion in the field of four. With Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin for the Big Ten title Saturday night, the Tide-versus-Buckeyes debate became the most impassioned of the past four seasons. 

Ohio State was a conference champ; Alabama hadn’t won its division. Ohio State had better victories, having beaten Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State; Alabama’s best victories were against LSU, which lost to Troy State, and Mississippi State, which lost four games. Ohio State also had the worst loss, and that’s ultimately what carried the argument. 

Said CFP committee chair Kirby Hocutt: “More damaging (for Ohio State was) the 31-point loss to unranked Iowa. … Alabama was clearly the No. 4 team in the country as a non-champion.” 

This will be the first playoff without an undefeated team. It’s the fourth (of four) with Alabama, the third with Clemson, the second with Oklahoma and the first with Georgia, which now carries the most emphatic loss – the 40-17 loss to Auburn on Nov. 11 – of any CFP invitee ever. Each of the playoff’s first three installments featured teams bearing a total of three losses. This year’s foursome has a collective four losses.

It’s also the first with two teams from the same conference, that conference being the SEC. The league where It Just Means More just Got More, much to the rest of the nation’s chagrin.

We’ll have more in a bit, but for now we’ll leave it here: Clemson looks like the best team in the country, but the No. 1 seed hasn’t yet won this tournament. The Tigers now get Alabama again, and it’s Alabama with a second life. Should the Tide win in New Orleans, they’ll head for Atlanta, where their former defensive coordinator and his new crew could join them. Whoa, Nellie.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.